Migrants from other West African nations are now using The Gambia to launch their journey across the Atlantic to reach the Spain’s Canary Island.
Gambian authorities in a raid last week arrested at least 108 people, including its citizens that were attempting to cross the Atlantic on a precarious journey to Europe.
A network of traffickers is coordinating the journey from the shores of the small West African nation. Immigration and Custom Enforcement officials caught up with the migrants in the country’s North Bank.
“They had food items and other necessities loaded on a small boat. The plan they had was to take that boat to join a bigger boat in the ocean that will then take them to Spain’s Canary Island,” said Immigration Spokesperson Mamanding Dibba.
At least 45 of those arrested are citizens of Senegal, the French-speaking nation that surrounds The Gambia on all sides except for the short Atlantic coastline on the West. Guineans were also arrested.
Gambian authorities say the network’s leader, Sheikh Tijan Jah was arrested in a separate raid in the district of Niumi, a 20 minutes ferry ride northwest of the capital, Banjul.
Many migrants were migrating through the sea to Spain until a dramatic shift in 2012 sent them to Italy. The fall of the Libyan leader, Moammar Ghadaffi fueled an influx of migrants crossing the Mediterranean to southern Italy.
Gambia’s former President Yahya Jammeh’s security forces killed some 44 Ghanaians trying to reach Europe from the shores of the country, who were mistaken for foreign mercenaries hired to oust his regime.
The European Union have stepped up to Gambia’s border enforcement agency. It has also channeled millions to the country to curb migration and to help the impoverished nation keep its young people from attempting to flee to Europe.
Most Gambian migrants are considered economic migrants and with democracy now flourishing in the country, many of the West African nation’s citizens that have pending asylum cases risk having their request for protection denied.
Gambia has the third largest arrival by sea to Europe per capita. EU leaders are trying to put a stop to the mass human exodus from this small nation, where more than 72 percent of its rural community live in abject poverty.
Most of Gambia’s migrant crossing the Mediterranean or the Atlantic into Europe are from these rural communities and the government wants greater European partnership to address push factors such as poverty and good paying jobs.